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Which mHealth Apps are Best? Let the Doc Prescribe

June 1, 2015
by Rajiv Leventhal
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Note: This article appears as a sidebar to Associate Editor Rajiv Leventhal’s mobile computing feature in the May/June issue of Healthcare Informatics. That feature, sans the sidebar, can also be seen online here.

Less than two years ago, the Danbury, Ct.-based IMS Health, a big data and analytics company, launched a health app prescribing platform called AppScript, a mobile health platform which works with hospitals to let doctors suggest apps, devices and educational videos for patients (doctors are able to rate apps as well). IMS assessed those tens of thousands of health apps already based on functionality (including security), provider and patient reviews, certifications, and their potential to improve outcomes and lower the cost of care. AppScript reviews each app's functionality, certifications, relevance, and peer and patient reviews. Physicians can then organize these apps based on the types of patients they see and the types of approaches and treatments they prefer.

At the Charlotte, N.C.-based Mecklenburg Medical Group, part of Carolinas HealthCare System, Gregory Weidner, M.D., says he uses the AppScript platform to help patients navigate the digital health environment. “We have a team-based care approach. In addition to two primary care physicians, we have RNs MAs, health coaches, and a nutritionist educator as part of our practice, and we like to use similar approaches and tools regardless of which member of the team is interacting with the patient,” Gregory says. “So we can help people solve challenges they have.”

Gregory says that nearly all of the apps that they recommend are ones that at least one, if not all of the staff, have used either personally or with patients so there is intimate knowledge about how they work.  He says the apps range from lifestyle apps to sleep and stress management to fitness trackers. “These are all crucial elements for people as they try to improve their health and manage chronic conditions,” he notes. “With all of the well-designed digital solutions out there, we saw an opportunity to put some context and insights around them for people so they can use them as it relates to managing hypertension or diabetes as opposed to being a general consumer app. They become healthcare improvement tools and in many cases chronic disease management tools.”

What’s more, the AppScript solution allows physician users to not only prescribe the mobile app, but also bundle it with content that will help the patient, if appropriate. For instance, for a patient looking for help with stress management or physical activity, Gregory says he’ll prescribe the appropriate mobile app to the patient’s mobile number or email and bundle with content such as a YouTube video. “You would get that ‘prescription’ from us, put in the code and download the app, so we know that you’re getting that app and the content with it,” he says.

Down the road, the plan is to use the prescribed apps in integration with electronic health records (EHRs), Gregory adds. “Once we demonstrate this platform’s value, that type of integration into a physician’s workflow is something we absolutely want to pursue,” he says. “Going back years, we have seen a positive impact in using digital tools to engage patients in owning their own healthcare can have. Whether that’s tracking steps or nutrition with a mobile app, all of these things engage people in meaningful ways. Better engagement leads to better outcomes.”

The ability to have patients track their own data, whether it’s remote diagnostics, blood glucose, or lifestyle habits, is a game-changer in the new healthcare, Gregory attests. “And the ability for the care team to have access and insight into that data and help guide the patient based on knowledge is huge,” he says. “We do that daily, and there is no question that’s the model for care going forward, especially for patients that have lifestyle sensitive chronic conditions.”

Gregory further notes that the process has been a big pleaser with patients. “We can help people simplify their lives, whether it’s health and wellness or management of chronic diseases. We believe that when used in a context of a trusted healthcare relationship that mobile health technology can profoundly impact people’s lives,” he says. “The time is clearly here for mobile health solutions to help people become more empowered. This tool helps with that.”